Showcasing the bad kids

By Jan Creaser

At least once a week, Jenny Jones or Maury Povich or some other like-minded TV moralist parades children across their stage, railing about how "out of control" the child is, how the parents "are at the end of their rope" and how "nothing seems to work" in terms of discipline. These kids are horrible, they are reprehensible, they will turn into criminals, say Jenny, Maury and the kids’ own parents.

"Crimes" range from picking on brothers and sisters to shoplifting, smoking cigarettes, drinking and doing drugs. The average age of these children appears to be about 12 and rarely exceeds a ceiling of 16. Many are eight, nine or 10 years old. Many come on stage and act tough, talk back and swear.

"I don’t know where she learned it," says the working-class mom who holds down two jobs because her husband/boyfriend/abuser walked off and never pays child support.

Rarely, if ever, do the fathers of these delinquent children appear on the show. That doesn’t mean fathers are needed for discipline but rather speaks to the nature of these households: most are working class, single-parent homes. These are children whose problems are caused by life circumstances and the unimpeded crush of popular culture.

If anything, the boot camps they are habitually sent to probably work more because of what Maury and Jenny don’t show us on TV. It’s unlikely the physical challenges alone induce change, but rather the presence of caring, committed adults who, despite the strange situation of going "boot camp" on a kid’s ass, actually dig to the root of problems and show these children how to gain confidence without mouthing off or setting fire to the garage. This is where the plug for social programs like better daycare, benefits and education comes in.

As for where these kids learned their dirty words and bad attitudes, look no further than pop culture, such as the "gangsta" movement. As well, more and more shows–supposedly wholesome sitcoms–show children and teenagers calling each other "bitch," and emphasize materialism and aggressive verbal acts towards parents by kids. What kids don’t realize is that the TV child reads his lines as written by an adult for adults; TV families do not reflect a remotely realistic parent-child relationship of reciprocal trust and respect.

I’m the last person to promote so-called traditional family values; it doesn’t take a nuclear family to raise a child who has respect for his fellow human beings. However, it does take a society committed to ensuring kids grow up with support and a good understanding of appropriate ways to deal with problems. It does not take 60 minutes of incorrect proselytizing by Maury, Jenny and associates.


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